Split Diopter Shots in THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN
A Split Focus Diopter is a half convex piece of glass that attaches to the front of a camera’s main lens to make half the lens nearsighted. This lens can focus on a plane in the background and on a foreground element at the same time. To effectively apply this cinematographer’s tool a filmmaker has to plan out each shot so that both the foreground and background elements will be in focus.
The Spilt Focus Diopter creates a hyper-real visual effect that logically shouldn’t happen but somehow it magically delivers a striking and visceral image that resonates in the mind of the viewer.
SPLIT DIOPTER shots are most often attributed to Brian De Palma but director Robert Wise incorporated them into many of his films as a visual style and storytelling device, often using them more than 100 times in one film.
His split diopter shots became an integral part of the story and not just a stand-alone visual trick. In THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, Robert Wise used 206 split diopter shots…the most in any feature film I’ve researched.
Robert Wise edited Citizen Kane. That alone is most impressive. He then went on to direct: The Day the Earth Stood Still, Run Silent Run Deep, West Side Story, The Haunting, The Sound of Music, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and 35 other feature films. On THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, Wise teamed up again with DP Richard H. Kline, one his favorite cinematographers. They went on to film Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979 which had over 100 split diopter shots as well.
Wise and Kline hid many the split diopter shots that separated the focal planes by utilizing the monochromatic walls of the laboratory. The pure white, orange and gray walls were perfect for blending the in-focus and out of focus splits of the diopter. They also created several Double Split Diopter shots that created 3 zones of focus. I had never seen this technique used before and it created quite striking visuals.
I’ve chosen my favorite 71 split diopter shots from THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN and created a chronological video of how they appear in the film. In the pristine and clinical environment of a laboratory, the split diopter really isolates the important elements of the story. With so many computers screens and scientific devices conveying information…this technique accentuates and heightens the drama in one of my favorite sci-fi / virus / government conspiracy films of all time.
Even if you haven’t watched the film, you can still see how this distinctive look is woven into the story and becomes an organic part of The Andromeda Strain. Enjoy!
Behind the scenes of THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN:
BONUS: The Andromeda Strain Soundtrack by Gil Melié
Until next time…